By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Current leading trainer Michael Clements has yet to break his curse in the Singapore Triple Crown series, but believes the time is finally right this year.
Singapore Derby winner Top Knight will spearhead a three-pronged attack which also comprises Siam Blue Vanda and Safeer in the first Leg of the famed challenge, the $400,000 Group 1 Raffles Cup (1600m) this Saturday.
In three weeks’ time on October 31, the next Leg will follow, the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (1800m), before culminating with the crown jewel, and only Leg run under handicap conditions, the Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup (2000m) on November 21.
Prior to the last three or four editions, Clements didn’t really have a gun Triple Crown horse under his barn roof until Countofmontecristo came along. The quality miler has had three shots (from 2017 to 2019), but has come up with mixed results, his third place in last year’s Singapore Gold Cup arguably his best performance.
The multiple Group winner, who has, however, yet to break his Group 1 hoodoo, is back in the fray this Saturday, but will ironically rise as one of the Clements trio’s main rivals. The seven-year-old son of Echoes Of Heaven was moved from Clements to champion trainer Mark Walker shortly after his third place in the Group 1 Kranji Mile in August, going on to run a terrific third to Mr Malek in a Class 1 mile race first-up for his new handler.
To Clements, the loss of his former headline horse is already water under the bridge. Besides, he has in Top Knight and Siam Blue Vanda two bullets he felt are more than worthy replacements, not to mention younger and with more upsides.
“I didn’t have the quality older horses for long distances to be competitive (in the Triple Crown series) in the past,” said Clements, the most senior among Kranji’s expat trainers, having relocated from his native Zimbabwe to Singapore in 1998.
“But this year, we’re finally in a position to have horses coming through as horses previously on the younger side.
“I haven’t seen Countofmontecristo work. He’s left me, and I only look at my three horses running in the Raffles Cup this Saturday, they are all very well, even if the weight-for-age conditions (all on 58kgs except for last year’s title defender, Hideyuki Takaoka’s mare Makanani on 56.5kgs) will benefit Countofmontecristo off his ratings (115 points).”
At 97, the ever-reliable Top Knight is without a doubt Clements’ new benchmark horse and main hope to topple the Count, but he is definitely not ruling out a cheeky run from the other two lesser-rated wards – Group 2 Stewards’ Cup winner Siam Blue Vanda on 91 and Safeer on 83.
“Top Knight is actually in great form. He galloped yesterday and is as good as he was going into the Derby – if not better,” said Clements.
“He’s come through the Derby really well and has maintained a very good form. I’m really pleased with him, he couldn’t be in a better place with regards to his trackwork form.
“The drop in distance and the Short Course are not ideal, but Vlad (Duric) knows the horse very well. Vlad will have to decide if he has to go a bit earlier, but I’ll leave it to him to time his run and make some adjustments.
“Siam Blue Vanda is in pretty much the same form. It hasn’t quite worked out for him at his last couple of races, but he still ran fair races.
“I think the drop back to the mile on the Short Course will actually suit him. He gets back and has a really nice turn of foot.
“If he gets a good barrier and there is a good pace to the race, I see no reason why he can’t run well.
“As for Safeer, we had a lot of hope for him after his third place in the Raffles Cup last year. He’s extremely well, he’s in great shape and we trialled him today just to get the speed out of him (quiet trial to finish sixth to Surge).
“He’s always full of running and is full on. We just need to keep him ticking over.
“He needs a good barrier and some cover. If he can get these, he can run a decent race; he just needs the right conditions for things to fall into place for him.”
In a bid to resurrect that winning flair that has eluded the Al-Arabiya Stable-owned Savabeel six-year-old since July 26, 2019, Clements is reuniting him with Benny Woodworth, his winning partner that day, and even more to the point, the jockey who rode him to that flashing third to Makanani in last year’s Raffles Cup blanket finish.
Duric unsurprisingly stays on Top Knight. Besides that well-timed ride in the Singapore Derby, the three-time Singapore champion jockey has now teamed up with the Zoustar five-year-old to half of his eight wins for champion owner Falcon Racing Stable.
Louis-Philippe Beuzelin was Siam Blue Vanda’s partner in the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge, but in a bit of a surprise twist, Clements’ No 1 jockey has kept his job on Countofmontecristo, opening the door to Juan Paul van der Merwe to link back up with Siam Blue Vanda in the Raffles Cup.
The South African lightweight jockey rode the Pupetch Racing Stable-owned seven-time winner by Echoes Of Heaven to a creditable sixth place to Aramaayo in the Kranji Mile.